SYDNEY (Reuters) - A couple of amateur college students from Asia outshone a handful of major winners in the opening round of the Australian Open on Thursday but the main talking point was the blanket of bushfire smoke that shrouded the golf course.
Japan’s Takumi Kanaya showed why he is the world’s top amateur by shooting an opening round 65 and topped the leaderboard alone until Taiwan’s Chun An Yu joined him on six-under-par late in the afternoon.
The pair were two shots ahead of a trio of local challengers, including 2015 champion Matt Jones, with former British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen and England’s Paul Casey in a group of 15 a stroke further back on three-under.
Casey played in a group with Adam Scott (75) and Sergio Garcia (70) that endured the worst of the smoke blown over The Australian Golf Club from fires that have raged in the countryside around Sydney for the last month.
“I must admit my eyes are stinging,” said Casey, who hit an eagle three after a brilliant approach shot at the 14th in his flawless 68.
“I’m not going to complain because there’s people in a lot worse position than me. It makes it tricky but overcoming the elements is part of golf.”
Scott, who like Oosthuizen and four other players is preparing for next week’s Presidents Cup challenge against the United States in Melbourne, made a poor start to his quest for a second Australian Open title with five bogeys and a sole birdie.
“(The smoke) got pretty thick for a while, it still is. It’s not great,” said Scott, adding that he would look into wearing a face mask for the second round on Friday.
“It feels like I should shove a bit of salt water up my nose or something and try and rinse myself out. Obviously not the conditions we want to be playing in. You kind of hope for rain.”
Kanaya made the most of the more benign early conditions to spray five birdies on his front nine and a couple more to finish after a single blemish at the third hole, his 12th.
“I had a bit of luck and I’m happy,” said the 21-year-old Tohoku Fukushi University student.
“That has given me a little bit confidence but I have three more days to go. I will do my best tomorrow.”
Yu, known better as Kevin to his fellow students at Arizona State University, was a later starter but, unperturbed by the smoke, matched Kanaya’s seven birdies to join his fellow amateur at the top of the leaderboard.
“The air didn’t smell really good, but I can get used to it, so no big deal to me,” he said.
Editing by Peter Rutherford